Establishing a Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet

Closed 14 Jan 2021

Opened 1 Dec 2020


The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 requires the establishment of a national Nitrogen Balance Sheet for Scotland by March 2022, via a process of regulations. The Scottish Government is now consulting on proposals for establishing a Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet (SNBS).

Nitrogen is a basic building block of life and present everywhere across the economy and environment. A Nitrogen Balance Sheet is a way to keep track of how nitrogen is being used, any losses to the environment and whether there is scope for improvement.

In particular, the Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet (SNBS) will provide a method for determining a baseline figure for “Nitrogen Use Efficiency” in Scotland. Nitrogen use efficiency means the proportion of nitrogen used for its intended purpose (e.g. growing food) vs. losses to the environment, which can have harmful effects on, for example, climate change, biodiversity, air quality and water quality. Once established, the SNBS will be reviewed and updated at regular intervals, helping us keep track of progress on improving nitrogen use efficiency.

The main purpose, as set out in the 2019 Act, for the SNBS will be to support progress to Scotland’s national climate change targets. This is because one form of nitrogen - nitrous oxide, N2O - is an important greenhouse gas. Improving nitrogen use efficiency will, therefore, help with tackling climate change. However, the fact that nitrogen in all of its many forms is basically everywhere (in the air we breathe, soils, plants, water, animals, food production, combustion, waste management, etc) means that the SNBS will also have the potential to support a range of wider applications (some key examples around air quality and agriculture are discussed below). The Scottish Government is keen to maximise the potential of the new evidence base from the SNBS to support linkages between as wide a range of policy areas as possible.

Why we are consulting

As part of a programme of engagement, the Scottish Government is consulting on key aspects of the approach to shape this new initiative.

Read the consultation paper. 

What happens next

A report summarising the responses received will be published.

We expect that there will be a further stage in the engagement process, in the form of a plenary workshop in early 2021, where the responses would be presented and discussed.

Regulations will be laid in Parliament for agreement in advance of the statutory deadline in March 2022.


  • Economy
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Farming and Rural
  • Marine and Fisheries
  • Transport